If you go to one of the fancier restaurants in Wimbledon during the current fortnight you are more than likely to bump into a player or two. If you go to the local supermarket you might run into Rafael Nadal as the defending champion scours the fruit and veg department or the fresh fish stall for ingredients for the dinner he will prepare for his family and friends.
"I have my theories," Nadal said here yesterday after his final practice session before this afternoon's semi-final against Andy Murray. "If you lead a normal life and just go along normally, fewer people bother you. But if you go out with security and things like that, everybody knows that something is happening there. You live normally, it's OK. I've been to the supermarket two or three times. Otherwise my girlfriend or my Mum do the shopping."
In this celebrity age Nadal is the most humble of champions. When he has a holiday he spends it at home in Mallorca, fishing, playing golf and spending time with those he has grown up with. At Wimbledon he welcomes the chance to live in a rented house, surrounded by familiar faces, rather than stay in a hotel. He is sharing a house just a short walk away from the All England Club with Toni, his uncle and coach, Rafael Maymo, his physical trainer, and a revolving cast of family and friends.
"For me, family and friends are very important," Nadal said. "If you're from smaller places everything is easier, everything is closer. I'm from Mallorca, from a small village, so I always have my family around – not just my mother and sister, but my uncles, my cousins, everyone. Everybody is really close. I see all my family every day."
It was Carlos Costa, Nadal's manager, who suggested staying in a house during Wimbledon. "I first tried it in 2006 – and I'm never going back to a hotel," Nadal said. "With the conditions and the weather here, I think it's a bigadvantage to have a house near the club. In New York, there's no chance to do that. In Roland Garros, you can maybe. In Australia, we are very close to the tennis. Here, the traffic is sometimes tough and there are problems with the rain too. It's a different experience. I've only spent one week at home in the last five or six months, so being in a house with the family and the team makes things less tiring.
"Sometimes it's good not to be in a hotel. I love being on the sofa watching the TV. In hotels they give me big rooms, but usually I'm alone. Here I'm in a house and you have more people around. I don't like being alone very much. I like to be with people."
Tennis is never far from the Spaniard's mind – he apologised for breaking off the conversation momentarily to watch a television screen as Petra Kvitova had match point against Victoria Azarenka – but clearly enjoys the chance to lead a normal life.
"I've been cooking a lot," he said. "I do salad a lot of times, fish, pasta, meat. I like making pasta. The quality in the British supermarkets is good, but maybe there is a difference between the fish here and in Mallorca. One day I had some monkfish, but after that it's salmon or tuna."
Toni, Rafael's father Sebastian, and a third brother share a business in Mallorca. The three men agreed early on that Toni's job would be to guide his nephew through his professional career. The family's shared values of respect and humility are clear in everything Rafael does.Reuse content